by Kenneth W. Hawthorne
Does the Bible claim to be God's word, and if so, in what sense and to what extent?
Does the Bible claim to be God's word, and if so, in what sense and to what extent?
Old Testament prophets often made the claim that the words of God had come to them and that they were speaking God's words:
Jeremiah 1:9 Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me:"Behold, I have put My words in your mouth."(NKJV)
Jeremiah 2:1 Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 "Go, and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem saying, 'Thus says the LORD... (NKJV)
Former Church-of-Christ preacher Farrell Till notes that the words the prophets spoke as well as the words the prophets wrote were claimed to be the words of God:
In addition to hundreds of passages in the Old Testament that refer to the "word of Yahweh" [Yahweh is a transliteration of a Hebrew word for God, KH] coming to so and so and claims of "thus says Yahweh," there are also claims that the words that they wrote were the words of Yahweh.
Exodus 24:3 Moses came and told the people all the words of Yahweh and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that Yahweh has spoken we will do."
Moses told the people what he called the "words of Yahweh," and the people accepted them as "all the words Yahweh has spoken." Then the text claims that Moses wrote down the words of Yahweh.
4 And Moses wrote down all the words of Yahweh....[edited, kh] 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." 8 Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, "See the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words."
Moses wrote down what the Exodus writer claimed were the "words of Yahweh," so that later when he read what he had written, the people understood that they had heard him read not the "ideas" of Yahweh but the WORDS of Yahweh. Jeremiah, whose claim that Yahweh touched his mouth and put his words into the prophet's mouth we have already noticed, later claimed that he wrote down the words that Yahweh had spoken to him: "The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh: Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: ‘Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you’ (30:1-2). (From Farrell Till's Traditional Bible Inerrancy, Part Two. See link below.)
In the New Testament, the authors of Matthew and Luke have Jesus telling his disciples that when they were brought before kings and rulers not to worry about what to say, that he and the Spirit of the Father would give them the actual words to say:
Mt. 10:19 "But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." (NKJV)
Luke 21:12 "But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I'll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict." (CEB)
Farrell Till notes that if the words that were preached by the apostles were claimed to be verbally inspired by God, then it would necessarily follow that when these words were written down for people who were not able to hear the message, that verbal inspiration must also be claimed for this written message also:
What was said in these passages is not the kind of "inspiration" that is being taught by the new fundamentalists. It is a very clear description of verbal inspiration, so if the apostles were verbally inspired whenever they were preaching or defending the gospel before rulers, when what they said would be heard by their audiences and then gone forever, how likely is it that when they wrote epistles that were allegedly intended to be the "word of God" all through the Christian era, God would simply have given them the "thoughts" and "ideas" they were to write but leave the selection of the words up to them?
Such a premise seems preposterous. It would mean, for example, that the sermon Peter preached on the day of Pentecost was verbally inspired but the account of it that Luke recorded wasn't, that Luke had been given only the "ideas" of what to record or perhaps had learned about it by "oral tradition," whereas Peter had been given the very words that he spoke. Such a view doesn't agree with what the New Testament teaches. (From Farrell Till's Traditional Bible Inerrancy, Part Two. See link below.)
The author of the book of John has Jesus claiming that his apostles would be guided into all truth by the Spirit of truth who would only speak what he hears from God. And if the Spirit is so careful to speak only what he hears from God, certainly Jesus would not allow his apostles or others who were also inspired to do any less:
John 16:13, "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come." (NKJV)
The author of I Corinthians claims that he and others who were inspired by God "speak the wisdom of God". And that this wisdom was revealed through the Spirit of God and the words they spoke were not man's words but words the Holy Spirit taught them. And that because of this, "we have the mind of Christ":
I Corinthians 2: 6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written:
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him." [Isaiah 64:4]
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?" [Isaiah 40:13] But we have the mind of Christ. (NKJV)
Paul, the alleged author of the book of Ephesians, claimed that the Spirit was making revelations to God's holy apostles, of which he claimed he was one, and to God's holy prophets and that he was conveying the message in writing:
Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles-- 2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: (NKJV)
The author of II Timothy claimed all scripture was given by inspiration of God, i.e., literally, God-breathed (referring specifically to the Old Testament scripture, but by logical necessity the New Testament scripture was to be treated the same because the New Testament writers claimed they were speaking and writing the very words of God):
II Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.(NKJV)
The following verses from the book of Revelation show how serious the author claims God is about anyone adding or subtracting even one word from this book:
Rev. 22:18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (NASB)
Farrell Till further notes that if the Bible is the verbally inspired word of God, then it would logically follow that it would be inerrant:
Why would total inerrancy have to be a logical necessity or consequence of verbal inspiration? Well, first of all, an entity that is omniscient would know everything that it is possible to know in matters of science, history, geography, chronology, etc., etc., etc. If this omniscient entity should also be omnipotent, then he would be able to do anything that is logically possible to do. So if an omniscient, omnipotent deity verbally inspired the writing of a text, it would have to be completely inerrant unless deception was a characteristic of the omniscient, omnipotent deity who verbally inspired it. In the case of the biblical god Yahweh, the Bible claims that truth and honesty are features of his nature. If an omniscient, omnipotent deity should verbally inspire an errant text, the errors would have to be intentional, because the inspirer is omniscient (so he would have to know that he was guiding the writers to put errors into the text), and the inspirer is omnipotent (so he would have the ability to keep the errors out of the text). Therefore, if errors are in a text that was verbally inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity, they would have to be there because of an intentional act to deceive or mislead. However, the Bible god is allegedly "omnigood," which would exclude dishonesty and deception from his nature. There is only one conclusion that all of this could lead to: If the Bible was verbally inspired but contains errors, then the entity who inspired it was not omniscient or not omnipotent or not omnigood. It would be logically impossible for the verbal inspirer of an errant document to have all three characteristics. (From Farrell Till's Traditional Bible Inerrancy, Part One. See link below.)
It is plain to see that the Bible does not claim that God only inspired its writers in the sense of stimulating creative thought in the way a poet might be inspired by a beautiful landscape, or that God only inspired the "ideas" to its authors and left the authors to choose the words, or that the Bible merely contains the word of God. If any of these lesser degrees of inspiration were true it would mean that God would be bringing his declared important message of salvation to man in the form of an untrustworthy, unreliable text. And it would make liars out of the Bible writers who claimed they were writing the very words of God.
If the Bible's authors' claim is true it must also be true that the Bible text is inerrant, because of the omni characteristics they claim Yahweh has. If the Bible is not inerrant then Yahweh is not the omni-God that the Bible and fundamentalist Christians claim him to be, and the Bible is not the verbally inspired word of God. Which would mean that the alleged omni-God Yahweh doesn't exist and the Bible is nothing more than a religious book written by fallible men.
(For further reading see Farrell Till's Traditional Biblical Inerrancy Part One, Part Two, Part Three).
Church-of-Christ preacher Curtis Cates on what is at stake:
The situation is this--remove the inerrant, supernatural Book, and there is absolutely no substance to the claims of Christianity; it is but another world religion without portfolio, without credentials! (The First Annual Gulf Coast Lectures, Church of Christ, Portland, Texas, 1993, pp 34-35. See full quote in Farrell Till's Traditional Bible Inerrancy, Part One--Emphasis added by Farrell Till. See link above.)
If the claim of inerrancy cannot be proven to be true or if the Bible can be shown to contain at least one error then it logically follows that the Bible is not the verbally inspired word of God, and as Church-of-Christ preacher Curtis Cates says above, "there is absolutely no substance to the claims of Christianity."